Toronto seems to be the centre of the contemporary art world this winter with major exhibitions of the works of Douglas Coupland (at the Royal Ontario Museum) and the first major retrospective of Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Mainstream popular culture seems to only know Basquiat as former boyfriend of Madonna or that guy who made the great graffiti print on the Uniqlo or Gap t-shirt. But Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the icons of contemporary art and one of the major figures of New York cultural life in the 1980s. Yes, this means you need to know Basquiat. And not just so you can name drop at a cocktail party.

Jean-Michel started his art career as part of a graffiti collective known as SAMO in the mid 1970s, before his work started collecting steam as a solo artist in the early 1980s in New York City. Basquiat quickly became known for his neo-expressionist and primitivist paintings that tackled issues of racism, identity and social tension. Jean-Michel’s work often crossed the dichotomy of high and low art – inspired by everything from jazz to comic books. Unfortunately, Basquiat’s career was cut short by his untimely death at age 27, but his legacy can be still felt inside and outside the art world; his groundbreaking works continue to challenge our perceptions, provoke dialogues and empower us to think critically about society and culture. And he did it all in a paint splattered Armani suit.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now's the Time features close to 85 large-scale paintings and drawings from private collections and public museums from around the world. The exhibition runs from February 7th – May 10th, 2015 at the Art Gallery of Ontario.